BROOKSVILLE — Of the 5,118 animals taken in by Hernando County Animal Services in 2010, nearly three-fourths never left the facility alive. Instead, those animals deemed non-adoptable for any number of reasons were euthanized.
For Humane Society of the Nature Coast executive director Joanne Schoch, those figures are hard to swallow. A devout animal lover and head of the county's largest no-kill shelter, she has long believed that more could be done to ensure unwanted pets stand a better chance at finding a loving home.
Lately, Schoch has been working with county officials in the hopes of bringing a cooperative adoption effort between her agency and animal services that she hopes will curb the number of euthanasias.
She also hopes the two entities can work together to secure and share resources such as volunteers, animal food and veterinarian care.
"We all realize that we have to make less do more and more," Schoch said recently. "You can still move forward in spite of limited resources. You just have to learn to work smarter."
The proposed partnership seeks to relieve the county of the responsibility of animal adoptions and place them under the auspices of Schoch's not-for-profit agency. In addition, the Humane Society will train volunteers for the shelter and help to set up a cooperative program to combine community outreach and education programs.
Although details of the partnership have yet to be worked out before the proposal is brought before the County Commission for approval, Animal Services director Liana Teague said the concept plays to respective strengths of both agencies.
"The goal here is to save animals," Teague said. "Although we've been successful with our own adoption program, we've always thought there was a way to make it more effective."
Teague said the faltering economy continues to fuel a rise in abandoned or surrendered animals. Meanwhile, the animal services budget has decreased by about 52 percent in the past three years. Still, Teague said the agency managed to find homes for 468 animals last year and sent an additional 222 animals to other agencies for adoptions.
The county shelter can hold 58 dogs and 20 cats. But with less resources to spread over an ever-growing animal population, the average length of stay for animals is limited. Stray animals that are brought in have a minimum five-day hold on them before euthanasia is considered. Animals held in quarantine and those brought to the shelter for safekeeping have a minimum 10-day hold.
Under Schoch's proposal, animals would be safe longer unless they are considered non-adoptable. A committee made up of Humane Society animal service staffers would evaluate safety and health factors before an animal would be put in a private home.
Schoch believes the program would bring the greatest benefit to animals whose behavioral issues might otherwise deem them non-adoptable.
"Disciplinary issues often take time to sort out, and that's not something that Animal Services is geared toward doing," Schoch said. "Fortunately, we have a great training and discipline program and a dedicated group of volunteers to run it. It would make a huge difference to a lot of dogs that animal services now has to put down."
Cost savings would be another major benefit of the partnership, Schoch said. Consolidating expenditures on things such as educational brochures, cleaning supplies, food and medicinal items would enable both agencies to further stretch their budgets and perhaps even expand their services.
"The bottom line is that it always comes down to how generous you can afford to be," Schoch said. "I think everyone agrees that we put too many animals to sleep, and the public is ready for us to change that."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]